Jordan Asks for International Aid to Deal With Syrian Refugees
The Jordanian Prime Minister, Abdullah Ensour, says the international community needs to do more than offer goodwill as his country deals with the influx of refugees from Syria.
In an exclusive interview with CNBC, Ensour outlined how Jordan, a nation of six million, had difficulty dealing with refugees totaling almost one million. "You can imagine the burden," he said. "The impact of the presence of so many refugees who have nothing in their hands and who need shelter, need food, need medicine: they represent pressure on our resources."
When asked whether the international community was doing enough, Ensour was blunt: "Not much is coming to be honest. We only have sympathy, understanding and goodwill but that's all and that does not suffice. These refugees expect three meals a day, they need shelter, hospitals, schools; all kinds of needs."
This drain on the Jordanian economy comes at a time when the country is only just overcoming the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, and the recovery has been disrupted by not just the Syrian conflict.
The Arab Spring saw disruptions in supplies of natural gas from Egypt in 2011 and 2012 that cost Jordan $5 billion as it was forced to buy fuel from elsewhere. Jordan signed a $2 billion loan deal with the IMF in August 2012. Under the terms of that agreement, Jordan had to end fuel subsidies which caused widespread public anger.
The World Bank promised an extra $150 million in aid to help Jordan with the cost of facilitating Syrian refugees, having already pledged $250 million in January 2012 to help the country deal with its economic downturn.
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But Jordan remains under pressure to meet IMF budget deficit targets. Ensour said spending on refugees by Jordan itself "added to our deficit some $700 million up to May 2013.
"Now, we don't know what will happen between now and the end of the year. Definitely more burden and therefore more deficits on the budget. It will be very, very difficult," he said.
Jordan is aiming to reduce subsidies further and bring down the deficit to entice more foreign aid. Ensour said the government is looking at cutting subsidies on electricity.
"International financiers were reluctant seven to eight months ago but after we took those measures - lifting the subsidies - therefore aid started to come back to Jordan," Ensour said.
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Jordan recently announced plans to raise around $2 billion in bonds backed by the U.S. government, which Ensour told CNBC would be "very, very helpful. It will cut down expenses and it will for sure bring more interest in the interaction."
Ensour declined to comment on the two sides in Syria's civil war but he did express concern about atrocities in the region.
"What worries us are atrocities, not only weapons; it's who uses weapons," Ensour said. "Civil war is there and it is agitating the region. It is an obstacle to all development in our region and country."
Ensour's concern follows news that the European Union will lift its arms embargo for some of the more moderate elements in the opposition to Bashar al-Assad in Syria. That decision followed pressure from the U.K. and France.